Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Journey of Awakening – 47: A Memorable Town

New Year week 1978. Somehow, call it Linda’s miraculous recovery or sheer determination, our family, me, Linda, Eric, and Troy who was in our Student House in Chicago, all were in one place for about a week in Boston. We decided to take a family one day trip to Cape Cod, stopping at Plymouth Rock on the way.

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We drove all the way to Provincetown   Cape Cod from Above

January was definitely not the time to visit Cape Cod. And we were disappointed that we could not actually stand on Plymouth Rock which was several feet below us with a fence surrounding its enclosure. Troy’s only comment was “Is that it?”

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That was the extent of our family holiday before I headed back out on the Town Meeting circuit.

By the time I joined the team we were moving our base of operations to Richmond, Virginia. Assignments were a little saner for the two weeks we were in Virginia. We had more volunteers so could go out in teams of two. We had a couple of us stay back in Richmond phoning to set up the meetings and appointments so the rest of us could concentrate on scheduling and conducting the forums.


My Colleague Burna Dunn in front of Richmond ICA House

I remember one foray I and another volunteer made all the way out to the point where Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee connect. A little town nestled in a valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The name is lost to memory. Let’s call it Jonesville.

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Many of the small mountain towns in SW Virginia were “Company Towns”

The only issue that seemed to be on the mind of the town leaders as we discussed scheduling their Town Meeting was that they were really disappointed that they could not get the participation of the black folks in the community in town affairs. I am sure they were well-intentioned sentiments. I couldn’t help wondering whether they realized how deep were the scars of more than two hundred years of slavery and being treated as less than human. We knew that whatever issues a town expressed on the surface, it was most difficult for the citizens to see with clarity the underlying contradictions that kept them from addressing their real situations.

Of course, one Town Meeting would not resolve all of the community issues. But we were often amazed at how much could be accomplished when people came together, left their entrenched beliefs at the door, and used appropriate methods aimed at building consensus.

I sometimes wonder if that little Virginia mountain town ever got it together.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Journey of Awakening – 46: Snowed in – in Harrisburg, PA

December 1977 - Working my way toward western Pennsylvania on the Town Meeting circuit. Our team of ten volunteers was to meet up in Harrisburg, the capitol of Pennsylvania, at the home of Ellen and Dick Howie, who were expecting to put us up for a couple of nights.

The snow flurries began the week before Christmas. By the time we arrived in Harrisburg most of the highways east and north all the way to upstate New York and as far as Boston were closed. The blizzard of ’77 was upon the eastern states with all its fury.

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             Harrisburg                            Boston

Linda and Eric were stuck in Boston and I was stuck in Harrisburg. Airports were closing and even the trains were not running. So our colleagues, the Howies, were stuck with ten of us, sleeping in their living and dining room for about a week. We made due, huddling around the fireplace, singing Town Meeting songs and Christmas carols, played lots of chess and card games, and tried not to wear out our welcome. A couple of days before the New Year I was able to get a train and made it back to Boston in time to greet 1978 and find Linda with a bad case of flu. As I remember I had to walk through the as yet unplowed streets from Copley Plaza station to our house, dragging my bag through the snow. But it was good to be home.

The streets were not cleared for another eight days, which was fine because we were both recovering from sickness and Town Meeting travel. Eric, who was in fourth grade, had to take care of both of his parents. And he did so without complaining.

When I returned to Pennsylvania in the middle of January, the snow was no longer an impediment and the roads were clear. So back on the Town Meeting circuit.

The only additional memory I have of my time in Harrisburg was driving by these huge cooling towers of the Three Mile Island nuclear power generating station, unaware that in just one year this would be the scene of the worst nuclear disaster in our nation’s history and the occasion for major changes in the world’s nuclear power industry.

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The Meltdown

It always amazes me how the day-to-day focus on what is in front of us as our particular piece of the human adventure allows us to go on in the midst of impending world-altering events. Another sign of how little control we actually have over the world—or over our own lives.